Simon Callow’s translation of this celebrated French farce is a triumph of hilarious camp, full of double entendres, sparkly dresses and genuine affection. Georges and Albin are a gay couple, living above the Cage Aux Folles nightclub. Albin is its ageing star who still looks good in a frock, but is no longer the sexy sylph. Georges is the harassed manager, continually fending of crises. They bicker and squabble, but, as Michael Matus and Paul Hunter show, they still love each other anyway. But their world is about to be turned upside down. Georges’ son Laurent arrives and announces that he is getting married, and that his girlfriend and her parents are coming to stay. Unfortunately the parents are conservative in the extreme, and the father is running for election on a ticket of morality and rectitude. How can Georges rearrange and tame his gorgeously queeny household and survive their arrival? That is the central dilemma that drives the action, and it is quite a task!
Syrus Lowe is a total class act as the screamingly camp and beautiful employee, Jacob. He struts and pouts his way through the play with a charming outrageousness and his attempt to walk in men’s shoes instead of his high heels is a masterpiece of physical comedy. By the time Laurent’s girlfriend Muriel and her the parents arrive the apartment has been transformed from its boudoir aesthetic to something almost monastic, complete with crucifix, Tim Shorthall’s design creating the physical changes Laurent persuades Georges to make, in his attempt to portray a ‘respectable’ family. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong. Laurent has invited his absentee mother to dinner much to the horror of Georges and Albin, and Albin has given up in his attempt to play the masculine uncle, opting for a totally different role that complicates everything. As the dinner party goes rapidly downhill the club downstairs is plunging into chaos and Georges has to act. Throughout the play other drag artists appear from downstairs and a reporter snoops around, looking for dirt. The reporter is played by Mark Cameron, who also has a hilarious cameo as the butcher, a tough guy macho man who turns out to have an unlikely love of art.
Jez Bond has directed a gem of a play, tightly timed and focussed, but feeling like an outrageous disaster as all good farce should. I hope this gets a transfer after it’s life at the Park. It deserves it.
“maintains what can only be described as a majestic pace throughout”
In Murder, Margaret and Me by Philip Meeks, and produced by Tilted Wig Productions, mystery writer Agatha Christie turns sleuth as she attempts to discover tragedy, and a murder, buried in the childhood of film star Margaret Rutherford. It sounds like an intriguing idea for a play, and playwright Meeks sets up Murder, Margaret and Me as a three hander for “women of a certain age” as he puts it in the programme. Based on true facts about Christie and Rutherford, this play even has all the elements of glamour one would expect in a story about a bestselling author, a film star and an ever-knitting hanger-on (who, as a devoted fan, keeps the action moving along).
Set in 1962, Murder, Margaret and Me opens on a film set in Pinewood Studios as Christie discovers that she and Rutherford have very different ideas about how Christie’s character Miss Marple should be played. In a ruthless attempt to wrest control of her creation back from Rutherford and her Hollywood producers, Christie sets out on a mission to discover all she can about Rutherford and what really lurks behind the beloved star’s eccentric public persona. Of course, Christie herself has a few skeletons buried inside her closet, and as the play proceeds, we get tantalising clues about those as well.
This is such rich material, and it is presented to us by the gifted cast of Lin Blakley (as Christie), Sarah Parks (as Rutherford) and Gilly Tompkins (as The Spinster). Director Damian Cruden does solid work, as do designers Dawn Allsopp and Richard G Jones. The costumes, supervised by Molly Syrett, give an appropriate sense of period. But if audiences come expecting to be held on the edge of their seats in the same way that Christie holds us in her novels, they will be disappointed.
Murder, Margaret and Me maintains what can only be described as a majestic pace throughout. While this gives the audience ample time to reflect on how artistic rivalries can ultimately poison a blossoming friendship, it does not create the sense of suspense and excitement that usually accompanies this kind of subject matter. Despite the witty dialogue and engaging characters, Meeks takes too long to bring all the elements of his plot together. Furthermore, there are some elements that are not well integrated, such as at the opening of the second half, where a before the curtain address to the audience gives advice on how to keep your man. (Christie advises marrying an archaeologist since “the older you get, the more interested in you he becomes”). The Spinster (or should she really be called the Knitter?) is a two-dimensional character at best, despite Gilly Tompkins’ best efforts to make her more fully realised.
This is a well-intentioned effort to show that women who come to success later in life have all the energy and passion required to imagine great futures for themselves, and to play hard to get them, even when swathed in tweeds, pearls and knitting. But it falls short in the attempt. Actresses of the calibre required to play characters like Christie and Rutherford should have opportunities to be let loose to show the full range of human passions, especially when rooted in childhood tragedy, and betrayals of art, love and friendship.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Craig Sugden
Murder, Margaret & Me
Churchill Theatre Bromley until 28th September then UK Tour continues